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Torii Hunter Slugging At Historic Pace In 2009

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Currently there are three names atop the American League leader board for slugging percentage: Evan Longoria, Nick Swisher and Torii Hunter. Torii Hunter? Yes, Torii Hunter. At age 33, Hunter is slugging .714 and enjoying a power surge out in Anaheim, I mean Los Angeles (I think). With eight home runs and six doubles to start the season, he has more extra base hits than singles. In major league history there are only three outfielders who have slugged over .700 in a season in which they were 33 or older. Those names are not a surprise to anyone: Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds and Ted Williams. While Torii Hunter is a nice player, he’s not quite in that class.

Nonetheless, Hunter could make some sort of history even if his slugging comes down to .500. Hunter has slugged over .500 twice in a season and at the pace he’s at right now that number does not seem like that lofty of a goal. A .500 slugging for an outfielder is pretty common place, but for a 33 year-old centerfielder, it’s not as common as you would think. Since 1901, there have been 24 occurrences of the .500 slugging season by a centerfielder age 33 or older. However, only 10 men have accounted for those seasons.

Here is the list:

Before we move on about Torii Hunter possibly being the 11th man on this list, let us take a minute to mourn all the great nicknames of years past. There are no more Pee Wee’s, Sleepy’s, and certainly no Baby Dolls. Instead we get names like the Terminator, The Matrix, and the Hammer of Death. My goal this year is to find the next Baby Doll in baseball (any suggestions?). Ok, back to Hunter.

Hunter is hitting more fly balls than normal (46.3% in 2009 compared to 35.8% career), but his line drives are down. This suggests that while his home run rate should decrease, he should be able to maintain his slugging through more doubles and even sprinkle in a few triples. His BABIP of .298 is right in line with his career average of .301, so despite the hot start, luck does not seem to be much of a factor. The Angels paid Hunter a nice chunk of change to be just a 2.3 WAR player in 2008, but look to be getting much more bang for their buck in 2009.